WheelSim VR: learning safe electric wheelchair operation thanks to virtual reality
WheelSim VR: learning safe electric wheelchair operation thanks to Virtual Reality
We asked David Hofer, CEO of LIFEtool
LIFEtool is a non-profit organization that counsels and equips people with the tools, they need to be successful. The Austrian company now successfully adapted its 2D-based simulator WheelSim to virtual reality. VR training enables power wheelchair users to practice difficult tasks in a safe environment. REHACARE.com spoke with CEO David Hofer about the opportunities of virtual reality, learned about the WheelSim VR and found out which people benefit most from the e-wheelchair simulator.
Driver safety trainings are a pretty good idea - also for the use of electric wheelchairs. With test users like Andreas (pictured), LIFEtool has developed WheelSim VR. Recently, the e-wheelchair simulation has been in the pilot phase.
David Hofer: So far, VR has not conquered a larger share of the gaming market and has struggled to meet expectations in this realm. That being said, we believe that VR is poised to play an increasingly significant role in the future, especially when it comes to more "serious" applications such as simulations or making experiences that are otherwise impossible or only achievable by taking great risks – this includes an experience that takes the user inside the human body, or a tour of the International Space Station, ...
Was this the reason you converted yoursoftware from 2D to a VR environment or what prompted you to turn WheelSim into an even more immersive and tangible experience?
Hofer: WheelSim was sold worldwide and was then adapted (branded) at the request of a well-known power wheelchair manufacturer. The latter also used this tool for training purposes. This prompted some incredible feedback from a young man with disability, who was able to showcase his ability thanks to WheelSim and subsequently received an electric wheelchair. To our knowledge, WheelSim was also the only commercially available e-wheelchair simulator and thus identified and filled a key niche.
The app is primarily designed to help children and/or people with learning disabilities who use a power wheelchair. Why did you decide to focus on this target audience?
Hofer: We feel very strongly about this target group and have worked closely with it right from the start. Thanks to the counseling sessions, this group has always been an important source for new ideas and inspiration for innovations. People in this group can benefit most from training road and traffic situations in the safe environment of the app. Therapists and rehab technicians can use the app to better assess the needs and abilities of electric wheelchair users and possibly try out suitable control devices.
Power wheelchair manufacturer Bandagist Heindl is on board with you. Did you also include feedback from power wheelchair users in your design?
Hofer: Of course, that goes without saying! Wheelchair users were involved in this process right from the start as part of the requirements analysis and the iterative design and evaluation approach [a series of steps that you repeat, tweaking and improving your product with each cycle; editor’s note] pertaining to the first prototypes and the pilot phase. We involved children and adults, both with and without learning disabilities, long-term electric wheelchair users, and persons who have recently started rehabilitation.
WheelSim VR will be released in both a home and a Pro version. What is the difference between the two options?
Hofer: WheelSim Home targets individual users and comes in at a lower price without personal consultations and evaluation tools. WheelSim Pro is mainly directed at institutions such as schools, therapy centers, and wheelchair providers that want to work with multiple people and seek an evaluation and assessment. The latter option includes personal consultations and training logs and the chance to review, discuss and evaluate the recorded sessions afterwards.
What are some other feasible applications or positive effects of WheelSimVR?
Hofer: Apart from the training possibilities, the therapeutic review and assistance with power wheelchairs, WheelSim VR can help as a simulation to also make the perspective and challenges of power wheelchair users more accessible and tangible for people without disabilities and subsequently train and increase their empathy.